Zbigniew Karkowski and Damion Romero do a great job of winnowing out potential listeners with “9 Before 9,” a sort of low-end endurance test aimed at the unlikely combination of underground noise enthusiasts with the coin necessary for possessing not only high-end equipment to reproduce subsonic audio, but also for purchasing an album where nearly two-thirds of the material is just not that interesting.
But first, let me say some nice things, because both Karkowski and Romero are well worth our attention. For starters, this is a well-produced set of recordings. Simply being able to put these sounds to disc undoubtably required serious effort, as evidenced in the liner notes, where the credits noteably mention both mastering and re-mastering. This album probably would not be possible on vinyl– my guess is that you’d sooner cut holes through the record before achieving these results.
“9 Before 9” also benefits from a significant care taken in the compositions– while there ultimately isn’t enough to engage me fully within the first two tracks, there are at least a few moments where I know Karkowski and Romero were at least doing more than letting the low-end simmer while having some lunch. I suppose it’s the same problem I have with Sachiko M– I really want to like the material, but despite my sympathy, there’s just not enough to connect with.
I hate to be a one-note reviewer this week, but the hyperbole surrounding most noise releases has got to stop. While it’s entertaining to read a writeup with yet another reviewer enduring some sort of self-inflicted torture in our stead while listening to the latest album, how truthful is it? I listened to “9 Before 9” straight through a couple times on headphones, and had given it my initial listen on some decent monitors at the radio station. I wasn’t feeling like anything particularly evil occurred, and I survived without incident. I ate a banana during “Part 3” and didn’t once feel like throwing up, or that my head had been made into a kick-drum for the gods.
If anything, it’s more interesting to wonder why these sort of reviews exist? Is it lazy writing, or is there some underexplored psychological need to witness harm on others that reviewers unwittingly fulfill? I think these are questions outside the scope of this review, but certainly very interesting.
Back to the disc in question– and let’s skip straight to “Part 3”. After all, the first 36 minutes of the disc don’t get interesting until just a couple minutes before “Part 3” cuts them off anyway… The last 18 minutes are decent. That’s right, decent. Nothing mindblowing happens, but if I’m willing to wholeheartedly enjoy Phill Niblock, I’m not going to lie to you and suggest I need constant action in my music. Karkowski and Romero get some beating waveforms together; a good portion of this section sounds like very large (and very physical) objects crowded into a small area. It’s a good reminder of the more corporeal aspects of sound, and provides a welcome and fleshy contrast to the more ethereal portions filling the bulk of the disc.
My recommendation? Avoid it unless you have the capacity, equipment-wise, to really give the disc a chance to shine. Neither Karkowski or Romero are artists to sniff at, but the combined attack of speaker shortcomings and a somewhat minimal disc are too great an obstacle for all but the most committed listener.
“9 Before 9” is available on Blossoming Noise as release bn035.
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